Sunday, December 15, 2013

This Sceptered Isle, Part MMXIII

Warning - this is not easy reading.  These are some findings contained in three reports released in Britain December 11th, together with other reports released earlier,  regarding the performance of Britain’s NHS:

(1)  a quarter of new mothers were abandoned by their midwives during labour, with some left to give birth on the floor or in corridors; midwives due to help women give birth at home were failing to turn up; others were unable to read machines that monitor babies’ heartbeats.

(2) 148 events April to September were deemed so serious they should never happen.  These included a fallopian tube removed instead of an appendix; another woman left infertile after doctors operated on the wrong side of her body; the wrong patient having heart surgery; another man had laser surgery on his right eye rather than his left; 37 other patients had the wrong part of their body operated on or treated; another 21 were given the wrong implant or prosthetic limb; there were 69 instances of objects including swabs and scalpels left in patients’ bodies after surgery; and five patients died or incurred severe harm after nursing staff incorrectly inserted feeding tubes into their lungs.

(3) thousands of patients have reportedly all but given up trying to secure appointments with their family doctor.  In fact, one of the biggest concerns of patients was the inability to see a GP – a key finding of an NHS survey showing how patients had lost faith in family doctors. Nearly a third said they did not trust their out-of-hours service.

(4) the NHS watchdog detailed a catalogue of failings at GP surgeries, including consulting rooms infested with maggots and patients being given dangerous, out-of-date drugs.

(5) at Mid Staffordshire hospitals, hundreds are feared to have died needlessly because of neglect.  This particular hospital trust has pretty much been a public embarrassment for several years.

(6) 12 [hospital] trusts were put into special measures after inspectors found staffing shortages and an obsession with targets were putting patients at risk.

(7) Police [were] called in to probe claims that staff at Colchester Hospital fiddled figures to hide the fact that some patients waited up to six months for cancer treatment.

And the official response to these findings?  “A Department of Health Spokesperson said: ‘People have a right to expect the best standards of care from their GP practice and hospital. A global study last month showed, the NHS is one of the best health services in the world.”

Spokesperson, I'm sure it's an immense relief for all British subjects to know that a "global study" says they enjoy such fine health services.  But you omit to say that people also have a right to expect the NHS to meet the same standards of excellence as you assert for GPs and hospitals.

Meanwhile in America, the economist Paul Krugman famously stated in a 2009 New York Times op-ed article that  “In Britain, the government itself runs the hospitals and employs the doctors. We’ve all heard scare stories about how that works in practice; these stories are false.”

False?  If they were "false" in 2009, how likely can it be that the NHS suffered such significant deterioration in just 48 months?  Isn't it much more likely - and more truthful - that stories like these were not “false” in 2009, and they are not "false" now? 

Given this unpleasant window into NHS, what should be the takeaway  for Americans?  What must we do - what must we demand be done - to protect medical care in the United States from this kind of deterioration?   (I don't know the answer but FWIW, my opinion is that Obamacare cannot be a meaningful part of it.)
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